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Monday, June 29, 2009

Mmmmm, beer

What the heck is a beer post doing in a wine blog? Why? Cuz it's summer. Sometimes it's just too warm for wine.

I have standard beers that I compare all others to; not that these are absolutely the best of a style. None of these are really rare beers and should be at least semi-easy to find.

Pale Ale - Sierra Nevada. A bit hoppier than a traditional ale, but that's why it's so damn good. There's a reason this company went from a garage operation to getting so big as to make every other specialty brewery jealous and it's because of this beer.

IPA - Lagunitas. This one is definitely hoppy and is it good. They make a number of small batch beers. Most are really good. Bear Republic's Racer 5 also a top-of-the-line IPA.

Brown Ale - Downtown Brown from Lost Coast Brewery. A bit nutty, a bit malty. A great winter beer, but light enough to work in the summer. 

Amber Ale - Red Tale Ale from Mendocino Brewing. I usually don't like Amber Ale because they can be caramelly. It's a rich beer, but not syrupy. This beer put these guys on the map. 

Lager - Longboard from Kona Brewing. I'm not much for Lagers, but this one is pretty nice. ("Pretty nice" is about the best I can say about a Lager). When you want something on the lighter, less hoppy side this is good. I wouldn't call it a typical Lager. Also, I won't turn down a cold Pacifico.

By the way, 25% of beer bought in America is either Bud Light or Miller Lite.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A new find in Sonoma Valley

New for me anyway. Audelssa Winery has a tasting room in "downtown" Glen Ellen. It's a funky-looking little storefront from the outside, but done up really nice on the inside, and the host was great.

Their estate fruit is not grown on the valley floor giving the wines a mountain fruit flavor. Not sure I can exactly describe what that tastes like, but I know it when I have it.  Kind of a wildness or brambly flavor.  The wines seem fairly priced for what you get.

The Chardonnay fruit is from Mendocino County and has actual fruit and mineral flavors rather than oak!  It would be great if more people would stop using new french oak barrels for their Chard, but then where do you use the barrel the first time? (Can't be on a red wine). If there were more Chardonnay made like this I might actually drink Chardonnay! (Well, maybe).

The Zinfandel was from Calistoga in northern Napa Valley (the hot part) and tastes like, well, a Napa Zin lacking complexity and showing the heat of alcohol over an indescribable fruit with none of the spices that make up a great Zinfandel. The wine was actually well-made, just not my style. I've had Zins from this same part of Napa before and they are all similar. Other than the Howell Mountain area Zins from Napa just don't compare to Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys in Sonoma.

The really interesting wines were various blends--a couple Rhone-style Syrah-based wines and a Bordeaux-style. These wines had an acid backbone that wasn't overwhelming, moderate fruitiness and the tannins are under control. Balanced, they call it. These wines are a great find.

I also stopped by Ty Caton, Arrowood, Kenwood, and Chateau St. Jean.

Ty Caton is a very small producer and makes interesting wines such as Syrah, Barbera, and Sangiovese. Well-made and they win awards. The bad news is the high prices for most. The best deal is the "Field Blend."

Arrowood still makes very good Cabernet and Syrah. The Cabs ran $50, $75, and $110. I guess they think they're in Napa! Dick Arrowood's namesake has gone through a number of owners in the past years and is now in the hands of Kendall-Jackson. The staff showed great hospitality as they always do at Arrowood.

Kenwood makes over two dozen wines. Most people have seen the white labeled Sonoma County wines such as the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet. Most of these, except for the Pinot Noir, aren't very good. The Pinot is a great deal. Also, the Red and White Table Wines are good deals. The reserves and Jack London Ranch wines are their best, but require patience as they need aging.

At Chateau St. Jean I sampled the "standard" wines and several reserves and found the best deal to be the Sonoma County Pinot Noir that sells for about $18. St. Jean is one of the most beautiful wineries in Sonoma County.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Celebrity Wine

Anyone on the production / ownership end of a winery will tell you if you're looking for a place to sink all your time and money a winery is one way and certainly more exciting than many small business opportunities (like, say a Denny's franchise).

Tommy Smothers was one of the first in Sonoma County, and at least, is a down-to-earth guy. The "memory of" Raymond Burr is still here. You can also hear about Mario Andretti, Mick Fleetwood, Francis Ford Coppola, and various ex-ball players. You've got Madonna wine, Marilyn Merlot, and a Jeff Bridges meritage (Jeff Bridges??).

Everyone wants to be part of the life-style, but not the work. I suppose it's the same with being a famous actor, singer, or ballplayer -- sounds like fun because you don't know how much work is involved to get there.

There are "dead celebrity" wineries too, such as MacMurray Ranch. Fred MacMurrary owned land in Sonoma County for decades before his death. Now that he's gone Gallo produces MacMurray Ranch wines.

There is even a Celebrity Cellars "winery" getting juice from God-knows-where and putting labels of your favorite star on the bottle. How about a Celine Dion Chardonnay?

Francis Ford Coppola is probably the most successful. He started with buying the old Ingelnook facility in the heart of Napa. He sunk a ton of money into the place and displayed items from his movies. When crowd control became an issue he instituted a high parking fee on the property and opened a second operation at the old Souverain facility in northern Sonoma County.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Couple nice wines

At a small wine event last night I found two reds that stood out.

Trione Syrah - It says "BBQ" to me as a good Syrah should. Not all fruity and round, but some edge to it; some thickness. The Trione family has been in the local wine biz for awhile. They owned Geyser Peak for awhile so they're not your typical farmers, but more what I'd call "extremely rich." Geyser Peak improved quite a bit during the time they owned it.

Trentadue La Storia Meritage - On first sip my eyes got wide and I uttered something like, "Oh, #%$@, this is good!" One of the best wines I've had in awhile. I checked their website and it retails for $32. I've always loved their La Storia line. They're usually great wines.

The evening finished with dinner--pork ribs and Zinfandel. As Rachael would say, "Yummo!"